Today’s Headlines: Dense Breasts, Hot Flashes and Exercise

Not all women with dense breasts need extra tests. Dense breast tissue can serve as a barrier to detecting cancer since it can hide growths normally picked up on mammogram. But new research has found that not all of those women necessarily need extra tests to make up for the screening troubles. “The study findings come from 365,426 women ages 40 to 74. The researchers wanted to know if they could detect whether, among all the women with dense breasts, any subgroups had a higher risk than others of developing an ‘interval’ cancer found less than a year after a normal mammogram. They used an online calculator to estimate a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer in the next five years. The study found that women with certain combinations of breast density and five-year risk levels had the highest odds of an interval cancer. Two groups had high rates of interval cancer, defined as more than one per 1,000 mammograms. One group included women with a five-year risk of 1.67% or higher and extremely dense breasts. The second group had a five-year risk of 2.5% or higher and ‘heterogeneously dense’ findings on mammography.” The researchers hope their findings will prompt more in-depth conversations between doctors and patients about what a woman’s real risk for cancer is and which tests are really going to make a difference in their care. (New York Times)

Alternative treatments for hot flashes can be hit or miss. While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been the most reliable treatment for women experiencing menopause symptoms, some go for other options because of the risks of HRT. New research has found those alternatives may not be so reliable. “The team analyzed past studies on treatments ranging from exercise to antidepressants and behavioral therapy. For exercise, there was insufficient or conflicting evidence that it relieved hot flashes, but the researchers say it is worth trying because it could help improve overall quality of life and offset the increase in heart disease risk women face after menopause. Evidence for supplements or a diet rich in phytoestrogens (such as soy) was also weak. For selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly used to treat depression and anxiety, there was evidence that they are effective in decreasing both the frequency and severity of hot flashes. Gababentin, a drug used to treat some types of seizures and nerve pain, has also been studied as an alternative to hormone therapy, and some research has found it to be effective as well. Finally, behavioral interventions such as cognitive therapy and alternative medical therapy such as acupuncture still only have limited evidence.” That isn’t to say that these treatments don’t work for some. The results instead show that more needs to be done to nail down exactly what’s most effective and for whom. (Reuters)

Exercise extends life span and lower death risk even late in life. Exercise has long been known to add years to life, but many assumed that only held when you had a lot of years left. New data out this week, however, has shown that people on the older end of the spectrum still get a lot out of physical activity. “The trial tracking 68 to 77 year olds found that doing less than an hour a week of light exercise had no impact. But overall those putting in the equivalent of six, 30-minute sessions of any intensity, were 40% less likely to have died during the 11-year study. Even when men were 73 years of age on average at start of follow-up, active persons had five years longer expected lifetime than the sedentary. Physical activity was as beneficial as smoking cessation at reducing deaths.” The team also found that light activity reduced risk of death as long as it was done for more than an hour per week. The research shows that staying fit and active as you get older is important to keeping yourself healthy. (BBC)